Techdirt Reading List: The Internet Of Garbage

from the taking-out-the-trash dept

We’re starting a new feature here at Techdirt, in which each week we’ll promote a book — either new or old — that we think our audience really might enjoy reading. For a while now, we’ve had an Amazon widget over in the right-hand column, and all of the books we discuss here will be added to that widget, if they’re not there already. And, yes, if you buy via our link to Amazon, we’ll get a cut of that, so you’d be supporting Techdirt in addition to getting great and thought-provoking books to read.

This week, the book of choice is The Internet Of Garbage by Sarah Jeong.

You may already know Sarah from her prolific and entertaining Twitter feed or from her (sadly, apparently now defunct) hilariously funny email newsletter about intellectual property issues, 5 Useful Articles (which she did with Parker Higgins). Sarah has recently joined Vice, where she’s a contributing editor to Motherboard. Sarah was also kind enough to participate in our Copia Institute inaugural summit, where she spoke on many of the topics raised in the book.

Given the title, some seem to be assuming that the book is a polemic against “bad stuff” online, following the standard pattern of such books that discuss how awful the internet is and then moralize about how it needs to be cleaned up. This book is different, much more nuanced and well worth reading. You probably won’t agree with everything, but it will at least get you thinking about the way the internet works today, how harassment is a legitimate problem for a lot of people — but also how the knee-jerk reactions to it aren’t always that helpful either. If you want a sample, I recommend reading this excerpt about how we shouldn’t be abusing copyright laws to censor content. Here’s just a bit to whet your appetite:

When people are harassed on the Internet, the instinctive feeling for those targeted is that the Internet is out of control and must be reined in. The most prominent and broad regulation of the Internet is through copyright, as publicized in the thousands of lawsuits that RIAA launched against individual downloaders, the subpoenas the RIAA issued to the ISPs to unmask downloaders, and the RIAA and MPAA?s massive lawsuits against the Napsters, Groksters, and even YouTubes of the world. In our mass cultural consciousness, we have absorbed the overall success of the RIAA and the MPAA in these suits, and have come to believe that this is how one successfully manages to reach through a computer screen and punch someone else in the face.

Online harassment, amplified on axes of gender identity, race, and sexual orientation, is an issue of social oppression that is being sucked into a policy arena that was prepped and primed by the RIAA in the early 2000s. The censorship of the early Internet has revolved around copyright enforcement, rather than the safety of vulnerable Internet users. And so we now tackle the issue of gendered harassment in a time where people understand policing the Internet chiefly as a matter of content identification and removal?and most dramatically, by unmasking users and hounding them through the courts.

Yet an anti-harassment strategy that models itself after Internet copyright enforcement is bound to fail. Although the penalties for copyright infringement are massive (for example, statutory damages for downloading a single song can be up to $150,000), and although the music and movie industries are well-moneyed and well-lawyered, downloading and file-sharing continues.

The book is well worth reading (and setting aside whatever pre-conceived notions you might have about it before jumping in). It notes that nearly everyone instinctively recognizes that some forms of content moderation (e.g., spam filtering) are perfectly reasonable and also that harassment online is both very real and very damaging. But it doesn’t immediately resort to ideas that we need to just start deleting “bad” content. It suggests that there are more ways to deal with such behavior than just the single broad tool of content blocking, and that various sites should be a lot more deliberate in understanding all of the options and possibilities (and exactly what those sites are trying to achieve) before jumping willy-nilly to any single solution, which may have serious consequences (intended or not).

So, go check it out and let us know what you think of the book… and of our new (hopefully) weekly book discussion.

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Comments on “Techdirt Reading List: The Internet Of Garbage”

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Anonymous Coward says:

??? "content moderation" is NOT same as "spam filtering" !!!

I’ve no idea what you’re trying to nuance away there, but a person’s actual writing into a comment box is not in any degree or form similar to automated commercial postings.

With your fanboys constantly harrassing me and you providing a way for them to censor without “censoring”, besides what goes on invisibly to readers as you and I know, it’s somewhere below hypocritical for you to promote a writer on the topic.

“setting aside whatever pre-conceived notions you might have about it before jumping in” — That sentence is not just redundant, but doubly so! References prior time THRICE. … Give me a minute to recover. … Okay, probably just your usual lousy writing, not intentional textual fragmentation bomb.

I’ll just jump to what your fanboys won’t tell you: showcasing books written by your pals is just on the borderline of acceptable at best of times, but since sure to be duplicative of your own views, with dull nearly opaque text as exampled — then, hey, I’M ALL FOR IT! Be sure to include some “modern economics” by lily-white academics fawning over plutocrats too! That’d be great!

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Interesting feature. Very interesting...

Is there a way for people to recommend books for this feature?

I think just in the comments is good.

How do you pick what books the community might be interested in?

Gut feeling. 🙂

There’s probably no discrimination between fiction and non-fiction, I’m guessing.

Nope, though it’s likely that we’ll lean more towards non-fiction. But there will almost certainly be some fiction as well.

Anonymous Coward says:

I take issue with the SJW jargon about trolling needing to be understood in some pseudo-academic context of an “axis of oppression.” That in and of itself sounds like a military operation. The Axis Powers, Axis of Evil… How about we just form a very simple understanding that people have the right to be assholes and say whatever they like as long as they’re not making credible threats of violence?

Saying “Obama is an N” is acceptable. Saying “Obama is an N and I want to hang him” is not. Public figures are also basically public domain. If the starlets in the Fappening didn’t like what happened they shouldn’t have put their pictures on the internet. Privacy is a two-way street. Yes, there are measures that companies need to take in order to protect user data from being sold and marketed, but users themselves need to be proactive and not reveal PII, or if they do, accept the consequences. “Revenge porn” is a slippery slope into censorship. So is “slut shaming” or any other form of negative commentary about a group or their behavior.

Social justice warriors police behavior and ideas. The SJW movement is a toxic threat to free expression that itself needs to be stopped wherever it lies.

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